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Department History

Health Humanities developed as an academic discipline in the early 1970s by physicians and humanities scholars to integrate humanities into medical training. Courses and lectures in humanities and medicine intersected the science, technology and objective knowledge of medicine with compassionate, attentive care of the patient.

At this time, medical educators and their deans were concerned about the erosion of the doctor-patient relationship, the rise of technologies, the decrease in time with patients, changes in healthcare delivery and a de-emphasis on interpersonal “bedside skills” in the education of doctors. Medical training needed to be directed not just at the understanding and treatment of the disease, but also at the care of the patient. George Engel’s 1977 landmark article in Science on The Need for a New Medical Model: a Challenge for Biomedicine was part of a larger education reforms across the country.

The University of Rochester was among the first medical schools to create a formal Department of Health Humanities. It was founded in 1984 as a natural outgrowth of the school’s signature biopsychosocial model by Dr. Robert Joynt, a neurologist, who was then Dean of the Medical School, and Dr. Jules Cohen, an internist, who was Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education. The Deans’ vision was to solidify the presence of the humanities in the medical school curriculum by applying the materials and methods of the humanities to the study of medicine and doctoring.

Kathryn Montgomery, a PhD in English Literature, was the Department's first Director. Jane Greenlaw, a JD with interest in healthcare law and trained as an RN, was hired shortly thereafter to teach courses in healthcare law, and ethics.

Lainie Ross, Stephanie Brown Clark, Jane Greenlaw, Kathryn Montgomery

From left to right: Lainie Ross, Stephanie Brown Clark, Jane Greenlaw, Kathryn Montgomery

Since 1980, the Division’s education programs in the medical school expanded to include required courses, electives and enrichment Pathways in literature, history, visual arts, cultural, gender and disability studies. Concurrently, the courses in what is now called "bioethics" in undergraduate and residency teaching developed into a robust Program in Bioethics. A clinical component was established as an Ethics Consult Service for the hospital.

Kathryn Montgomery left the University of Rochester in 1991 and Jane Greenlaw became the second Director.  In 1998, Stephanie Brown Clark, an MD with a PhD in Medical History and English Literature joined the Division to develop the medical humanities and arts programs. 

In June 2012, Jane Greenlaw retired and Stephanie Brown Clark, became the third Director of the Division of Medical Humanities.  During her tenure, she developed and strengthened relationships with the Memorial Art Gallery and with Eastman Performing Arts Medicine and began a Masters program in Medical Humanities.  She served as Acting Chair when the Division was elevated to a Department in 2021.

In January 2023, Lainie Ross, an MD with a PhD in Philosophy became the Inaugural Chair of the Department. Under her leadership, the Department has obtained its first NIH-funded grants and clinical ethics educational programming is expanding and diversifying.

The Department is closely affiliated with the Program in Clinical Ethics which is a service entity of Strong Memorial Hospital and Golisano Children's Hospital.